Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Saint Louis University men's basketball head coach Travis Ford landed a transfer whose name should be familiar to Billiken fans. In an Instagram post this afternoon, Mike Lewis II announced that he's "Coming Home - 100% in with Team Blue".
The St. Louis native won a Missouri Class 5 state title at Chaminade College Prep in 2016 alongside current Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum (Duke), Tyler Cook (Iowa), and Will Gladson (Princeton) in one of the strongest classes the area has ever produced. He excelled immediately at Duquesne under coach Jim Ferry, who was fired at the end of Lewis' freshman season in 2017. Lewis entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal in March 2017 but was convinced to stay by incoming head coach Keith Dambrot. He managed to avoid a sophomore slump despite the coaching change.
However, after 12 games and a significant decrease in minutes and production as a junior, Lewis reentered the transfer portal in December 2018 as a mid-season transfer and signed with Nevada, where he is currently wrapping up the spring semester as a walk-on as part of his long-term plan with head coach Eric Musselman. He had planned to sit out the 2019-2020 season as a scholarship redshirt transfer and play the 2020-2021 season as a senior, but Musselman accepted the open head coaching position at Arkansas earlier this month, Steve Alford was hired to fill the vacancy he left at Nevada, and Lewis entered the transfer portal a third time.
Lewis brings much-needed perimeter shooting to SLU, which finished 337th in the nation last season with a .304 three-point shooting percentage. He adds depth, experience, and toughness to a roster that does not return any seniors. Digging into his production at Duquesne, a clear break appears between his sophomore and junior seasons:
Lewis was one of the Atlantic 10's most productive freshmen in 2016-2017 and showed remarkable consistency in his first two seasons overall. He shifted his shot mix further to the perimeter as a sophomore and was less effective inside the arc or as a passer, but increased his three-point percentage even as his attempts jumped by 2.1 per game.
But Dambrot overhauled the roster heading into his second season - Lewis' junior year - bringing in four transfers and seven freshmen. Despite his status as the leading returning scorer and veteran leader, Lewis' role was dramatically diminished as Dambrot established his system around the guys he recruited. Lewis simply wasn't one of his guys, and even after spending a successful season together, he no longer fit the system at Duquesne. It was never a question of ability.
The real question raised by Lewis' most recent transfer is: When can he actually suit up in a game?
Mid-season transfers call into question the NCAA's baffling transfer rules. If a player appears in one or more games in a given season, he or she has used that season of eligibility. In other words, even though Lewis played in just 12 games for Duquesne as a junior, he will not be allowed to play as a junior again. He could play the second semester of the 2019-2020 season or he could sit out this entire academic year and play a full season in 2020-2021 and would be considered a senior in either scenario.
However, the NCAA became increasingly generous with waivers to transfers with special circumstances in 2018 and there is reason to believe the trend will continue. Because Lewis was the victim of two coaching changes in two seasons, he looks like a strong candidate to apply for - and receive - a waiver for immediate eligibility. If such a waiver is granted, Lewis is basically a grad transfer senior for SLU and provides Ford and his staff another guaranteed scholarship for the 2020 class. If he has to sit another season, he ties up that scholarship and potentially crowds a roster that has several young guards in need of development.
My wish list for the three open scholarships SLU had as of last week were a stretch four, a post player, and the best available third player that the coaching staff could land, regardless of position. My only stipulation was that two of these players would be grad transfers, which would allow them to recruit the 2020 class with two guaranteed scholarships. Lewis is that third player, the wild card, and SLU needs his shooting. Having a scholarship freed up next spring would be a nice bonus. Let's hope that waiver is granted.